SUTTON Park in Birmingham is home to many prestige events including the Midlands Road Relays which featured numerous Stratford AC runners, writes Phil Brennan.
The course is famously difficult, with the non-standard distance, about 3.68 miles, featuring a sharp uphill stretch at the start and fast descents towards the end making it difficult to judge pace, which is essential for a competitive time.
Add to that the notorious out and return section, where the runners stream past each other in opposite directions, and the difficulty of taking a ‘racing line’ through the strolling families, dogs and, occasionally, cows, and it becomes a distinct challenge.
Stratford AC were initially unfortunate, with the injury-hit ladies’ team forced to withdraw at the last minute, but they managed to field two six-man men’s teams. Even so, several runners were nursing minor injuries, but turned out to take on over 120 other teams.
For the A team, Tim Hutchinson led off, handing over in good position to David Smyth.
“I went off slightly too fast, in fact the first mile was my fastest despite the hill, but then settled down. As ever, the support from fellow SAC runners and supporters was ever-present and appreciated, especially in the latter stages of the leg.”
The third leg was Graham Taylor’s. Despite feeling the unseasonal heat, he was buoyed by the support and ran a fast leg, handing over to Nye Davis, by far Stratford’s youngest runner.
He seemed a bit grumpy about his time, surprisingly as he was second fastest for Stratford!
Evergreens Richard Dobedoe and Malcolm Bowyer finished the job for Stratford A. They are probably still arguing about the 15-second difference in their times.
Meanwhile, the B team were led off by James Cusack. Second was Antony Howell, struggling with a calf injury.
“It’s too easy to stop trying when you’re not at your best,” was his analysis, but he still managed a very respectable time.
Waleed Agabani, another of the club’s strongmen who was not fully fit, followed, before Phil Brennan, James Deacon and Ben Twyman brought the team home.
Ben was returning to competition after nearly a year’s absence and said: “It was noticeable how my pace improved at the points on the course where the team gave a shout of support.”
Team manager Danny Tolhurst deserves immense credit for getting the teams to the line, as well as his faultless selection policy, and it was great to see Paul Hawkins giving his support.
Stratford AC individual times and finishing positions (in relation to age categories): Stratford A – 49 Tim Hutchinson, 21:17; 50 David Smyth, 22:39; 50 Graham Taylor, 22:15; 50 Nye Davis, 21:29; 46 Richard Dobedoe, 22:34; 47 Malcolm Bowyer, 22:49.
Stratford B – 74 James Cusack, 23:10; 72 Anthony Howell, 24:00; 67 Waleed Agabani, 22:45; 70 Phil Brennan, 27:00; 69 James Deacon, 25:05; 70 Ben Twyman, 27:28.